Le Ballon Rouge, Albert Lamorisse, 1956

by Josie Ainscough

Le Ballon Rouge is a short, beautifully made film shot in colour, which tells the story of a little boy who finds a bright red balloon tied to a lamppost. He unties it, and finds out that it has a mind of its own. The balloon follows him around, bobbling along behind him, on the bus to school, even getting him into trouble with his head teacher. A group of bullies, jealous of the boy and his friendly balloon, chase them through the streets and destroy it. The film ends with all the balloons of Paris float to the sad boy and fly him away into the sky.

Le Ballon Rouge was filmed in the Belleville area of Paris, which at the time was made up of slums. Apparently only five per cent of what you see in the film is left today, as the film’s release prompted the demolition of the slums, which were replaced with housing projects in the 1960’s.

The old slums, now replaced with standard housing blocks

In the film the balloon is a symbol of hope and happiness in a very grey and dreary city, the colour standing out against the murky buildings.

The bullies Pascal, the little boy, runs away with his balloon

Much of the Rue de Ménilmontant, making up most of what is left from what we see in the film, is surprisingly

similar. The number 96 bus still trundles down the hill. There is a similar atmosphere to the area, as it is still a rather run down and most of the shops are boarded up. The butchers shops in the film have now been replace with halal ones.

The number 96 bus on Rue de Menilmontant Notre Dame de la Croix visible in the background

The church of Notre Dame de la Croix has been cleaned and glows in the sun, unlike in the film, where it looks black from the years of soot. The church is also full of modern carved sculptures, including one displayed outside.

The balloon causes trouble at the church Modern day, with spiky sculptures

Death of the red balloon

 

Coincidently I found many red balloons for myself on Rue de Ménilmontant, as murals on walls and even a sad burst one on the street.

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